The Dallas Stars returned from the All-Star break, going through a long, hard practice Monday afternoon in Frisco. The Stars were on the ice for more than an hour and then wrapped up the session with a good skate.
“As a coach, I’ve always leaned on going hard versus easy after a big break,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I’d rather err on the side that I’ve given them a real hard workout, that I’ve probably pushed them further than you need to push them. But I’d rather be in that position than the other one wishing you had given them a better practice.”
“Get the lungs and legs burning a little bit, so mission accomplished,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “It was good to get back there with all the guys, get the hands and feet feeling good. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
The Stars left late Monday afternoon for Winnipeg, where they resume play after more than a week off due to the break. After a rough month of January that saw them lose eight of 11 games (3-6-2), the Stars are looking to get their game back in order.
“Our attention to defensive play, the first 20-25 games that was our goal,” Goligoski said. “We wanted to get out to a fast start, and it was going to be by playing defense, and the offense would take care of itself. Everyone knows that. We are going to see some tight games, so our defensive game for sure is what we’re concentrating on.”
Despite the rough stretch leading up to the break, the Stars still like where they sit in the standings. Their 31-14-5 record has them second in the Central Divison, three points behind Chicago with three games in hand. They rank third overall in the NHL.
“We just have to focus and worry about ourselves,” said center Jason Spezza. “We are in a good position in the standings, and we want to be moving forward, finding our game and playing well at the right time. The structure of our game is there; Lindy has everything in place on how we have to play, and we just have to execute consistently.”
The Stars have 32 games left on their schedule, and the February portion of it will present a challenge. Eight of the first 11 games in February are on the road, where the Stars have lost eight straight. They play 14 games in February, including nine against the Central Division. Eleven of the games will be against teams in a playoff spot or knocking on the door of one. They’ll see Chicago, the team they are chasing for the top spot in the Central, two times and they’ll play Washington, which has the best record in the NHL, as well.
“I really feel the focus intensifies. Every game now – won or lost – is magnified,” Ruff said. “We’ve been in this position before where you are fighting for a spot. We are going to play teams that are right on the bubble that can be in one day and out the next. You are going to hear this is a playoff atmosphere, a playoff type game. In January, some teams had ups and downs, some pushed ahead, some went sideways and now I think is when you see the biggest push of any.”
The big push gets underway Tuesday in Winnipeg. That’s the first of a two-game road trip for the Stars, who play at Colorado Thursday and then come home to take on Chicago Saturday at American Airlines Center.
“We’re going to see a lot of division games. It’s big,” said Goligoski. “We’ve got to be ready to go. Today’s practice was good. We’ll go start with a good road trip and go from there.”
*Forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who played in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, returned to Dallas but did not practice Monday.
*Defenseman Jordie Benn, who missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a lower-body injury, practiced Monday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff was asked if Benn was ready to go.
“I believe so,” Ruff said. “We’ll see how he made it through practice. He hasn’t had any practice except for today. I’ll have a conversation with him, talk with the coaches and see where we are with him. From a medical standpoint, he’ll be cleared to play.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.